One of John Davidson's first mantras as Blue Jackets president of hockey operations was "brick by brick."
That's how he wanted to build out the organization – an organization that was a rudderless ship sailing aimlessly in the ocean before he arrived. The Blue Jackets were in total disarray. They had never had experienced hockey operations leadership. Their team president had a business background, but didn't have any in hockey. And often times, those two sides overlapped. Obviously, it didn't work.
Everything changed in Columbus once "JD" arrived. Literally, everything.
There was structure. There was accountability. There was a plan.
And, more than anything, there was respect and a presence. When Davidson talked about his plan to build the Blue Jackets into a winner, he wasn't just talking about the roster and the depth chart. He meant building the whole god damn thing.
Part of that building included a strong team around him. And the strength of that team, which has evolved over the years, is a big reason why the timing was right for Davidson to step aside and move on to a new challenge. As you know by now, he resigned his post as Blue Jackets president on Friday and is expected to soon be hired by the New York Rangers in a similar capacity.
Jarmo Kekalainen and Davidson had a strong relationship before the latter came to Columbus. But in evaluating his staff, Davidson early on knew that Kekalainen was the type of person he wanted to guide the Blue Jackets. Kekalainen, in his six years as GM, has become one of the most respected in his position around the NHL – and that was before he executed a plan to go "all in" at the trade deadline and make the most of the best team they've had in years.
Kekalainen and Davidson have put together an infrastructure in hockey operations that will succeed long into the future. Bill Zito was a prominent player agent before joining the Columbus front office, and he figures to be in a GM's chair sooner rather than later. Josh Flynn is one of the brightest young hockey minds in the business, and is skilled in both the cap management and analytical realms. Basil McRae brings a player's perspective to the group as director of player personnel, really beefing up their staff on the professional side.
All this is to say that, because of the opportunity presented to him and more because the tremendous work he did preceding it, Davidson is leaving behind an organization in far better shape than he found it. This new venture in New York is merited and deserved in a Hall of Fame career.
"When we hired John Davidson in October 2012, I said I thought he was the perfect person to lead our hockey operations efforts," said Blue Jackets majority owner John P. McConnell. "Nearly seven years later, I believe I was right. He joined our team at a very difficult time and led a transformation that has resulted in consistent winning and appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs."
The Blue Jackets just completed their most successful season in franchise history, one that fueled in part by an organizational decision to load up and go for it. Davidson wholeheartedly endorsed that plan and, we would assume, got ownership's approval to do so – and that was one of his most important jobs, being the conduit between owners and hockey operations.
That job now lands at Kekalainen's feet and he is prepared for it. Davidson rolled his sleeves up, as he promised he would do, and got the Blue Jackets back on track from top to bottom. The heavy legwork was done by the man with broad shoulders, a booming voice, and decades of experience. It's now up to his first and only choice for GM, a choice he made six years ago, to carry the flag (pun intended) forward.